I’m sitting in my grandma’s back room, the room where she keeps all of Grandpa’s junk. He goes to the swap meet every week where he sells and buys junk. I saw it once. It was like a big parking lot full of garbage piles and broken things. He thinks he makes a living at it, but Mom and Grandma make fun of him behind his back because they really know he just likes to buy crap. So now the back room is full of gross crap and the carpet is all brown. I feel kind of dirty every time I play in there, but it’s more exciting than hanging out with the grown-ups, so that’s where I sit a lot of the time. All of my uncles’ old toys and books are back here too, inside the cabinets, so that helps.
Right now there is a monkey in a small cage that is hanging from the ceiling by a chain. I don’t know what Grandpa traded to get it. It screams in a high-pitched voice that hurts my ears whenever it gets excited, and makes it hard for me to watch the Mutual of Omaha animal show I love on the big television below. Mom told me not to touch the monkey because if it bites me, I could get infected. I don’t want to touch the screaming monkey, so she doesn’t have to worry. I just wish it would shut up. It can scream during stupid boring Lawrence Welk all it wants, but I want it to be quiet during my show about the Wild Kingdom. I kind of want to yell, “Shut up, monkey!” but that feels mean.
Sometimes my great-grandma sits in the kitchen screaming things louder than the monkey. She only talks in German so I don’t understand her, and she scares me because she looks all gnarled and hunched over like a troll in that chair. Her cane is bumpy like she pulled off one of the arms of those scary grabbing trees in the Wizard of Oz and I’m scared of her cane too. I wish Grandma would move the good cereal out here in the back crap room so I would never have to go into the kitchen again. I have to walk past Great-Grandma Mueller to get to the bathroom, and I swear she tries to hit me with her cane, even if I squish up against the wall really hard, so sometimes I go outside and pee in the backyard instead. Don’t tell anyone.
Grandma has a pet turtle in the backyard. I learned in the third grade this year during science that it’s really called a tortoise because it’s land-dwelling and not water-dwelling, but I don’t care. I still like to call it a turtle. I like to watch it eat lettuce. It chews like a dinosaur, like one of the herbivore Brontosauruses and not like a meat-eating T. Rex. It stands under the orange trees with the magic protecting white paint around the bottoms and chews the lettuce while I pretend I’m looking at a scene from dinosaur times.
There’s a metal trash can in the backyard, under the patio shade part, and it has a sticker on it with a curse. It was a Do Not Litter sticker that used to say: “Pitch in!” but one of my nasty uncles changed the ‘P’ to a ‘B’ and I’m not supposed to say that word unless I’m talking about a female dog, which makes it okay. But I’m not, so I can’t say it out loud right now.
The curse trash can is next to a white metal shed that I can’t go in because of the Black Widow spiders. If they bite you, you can die, so you have to be really careful about not going in sheds here.
I’m going to go back inside and watch my animal show now. If they do a show about monkeys, I’m going to use my imagination to pretend that there is a way for me to magically put Grandpa’s screaming monkey into the television through the screen like a window, and send him back the land he came from. Maybe if he can talk to other monkeys and feel like somebody is listening to him and like somebody understands what he’s saying, he’ll stop screaming so much. Maybe then he’d be quiet like me.